By Evelyn Usman
The arrest of one Chief Bonaventure Mokwe,a popular hotelier in Anambra State, his wife and some of his workers by the Police in Anambra State on August 1, 2013, sent shock waves all over the country. He was arrested after human heads were allegedly found in his hotel, Upper Class Hotel, Onitsha. Mokwe, alongside four of his employees were publicly paraded and later detained at the Special Anti Robbery Squad, SARS, in Awkuzu, a suburb of the state and later, arraigned at the Magistrate court 11, Onitsha on a four-count charge of conspiracy and murder, unlawful possession of two human heads and two AK 47 rifles with rounds of ammunition. They were also accused of killing one Nnalue Okafor.
Immediately after their arrest, the cries of innocence by the hotelier and members of his family aroused the interest of a foundation committed to promoting police accountability and respect for human rights called Network On Police Reforms In Nigeria, NOPRIN, and they took up the responsibility of fighting for the rights of the suspects. They carried out thorough investigations into the circumstances that led to their arrest and later came out with startling discoveries.
After they were granted bail by court, the suspects also opened up on their experiences while in detention at SARS, Awkuzu, Anambra State.
Crime Alert gathered from NOPRIN that the case took a new twist after it was discovered that the purported murder of Nnalue Okafor for which Police accused Chief Mokwe and his employees was a ruse after all because the said Nnalue was earlier arrested and detained at SARS, Awkuzu months before the arrest of Mokwe. His whereabouts is unknown till date, a development the missing man’s parents recently petitioned the Inspector- General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar.
Describing Mokwe’s arrest as frame up, the foundation stated; “On August 1, 2013 Chief Bonaventure Mokwe, his wife and his workers were arrested, paraded publicly as criminals and detained at the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, Awkuzu, Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria. One of the arrested workers, Mr. Justin Nwankwo- a PhD student at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, was working part time in the hotel to earn income to run his academic program. Chief Mokwe’s hotel was also destroyed on the instructions and orders of former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi.
“Chief Mokwe’s arrest and the destruction of his property were based on spurious and defamatory allegations of murder and unlawful possession of human heads and arms. While Chief Mokwe’s wife was released after some hours in detention, the rest were severely tortured and held in unlawful police custody for more than three months before they were charged to a Magistrate Court on October 17, 2013 and were remanded in Onitsha prisons.
On November 4, 2013 they were granted bail by an Onitsha High Court. Since then, investigations and the facts that have emerged after these events have exposed the mind boggling atrocities going on at the Awkuzu SARS and how politicians and other influential individuals use SARS as a tool for victimization, oppression and injustice.”
Frame-up NOPRIN’s national coordinator , Mr Nwanguma Okechukwu further disclosed that investigation by the foundation in mid January 2014 in Anambra State revealed that Chief Mokwe and his workers were framed up with the purported murder of one Nnalue Okafor (23) and eventually charged to court-after 81 days in unlawful detention.
He said : Operatives from SARS Awkuzu arrested Nnalue Okafor on Monday, April 29, 2013 and detained him up to October 2013. Nnalue’s mother Mrs. Nwauza Okafor visited SARS for the second time, with her husband Mr. Nweke Okafor to see their son on invitation by a police officer at SARS who called them and gave his name as Emma.
“Further findings revealed that the missing man , Nnalue Okafor is a member of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB. He was reportedly arrested around Silas Works area of Onitsha in the company of other MASSOB members, said to have fled upon the arrival of the policemen. Police and other security agents regularly invade the area known for MASSOB meetings and gatherings and typically brutalize, arrest, detain and torture several of them. Several MASSOB members arrested during police raids have been executed or disappeared from SARS custody. The news of Nnalue’s arrest was broken to his parents by his friend and a fellow MASSOB member, 23 years old Onyedika Igboenyeukwu, a.k.a Ngige.
“The testimonies by Nnalue Okafor’s mother Mrs. Nwauza Okafor, his father, Nweke Okafor and Nnalue’s friend, Onyedika Igboenyeukwu who witnessed his arrest as well as testimonies by other victims and witnesses revealed a pattern of atrocious abuse of police powers and unprofessional conduct by Awkuzu SARS.
“Nnalue Okafor was arrested and detained in April, 2013 and had not yet been released by SARS Awkuzu as at October when his parents last visited SARS but were not allowed to see him. Chief Mokwe was arrested in August. All these clearly contradict the claim by SARS that Chief Mokwe and his co-accused workers murdered the same Nnalue Okafor who is not known to have been released by SARS despite repeated visits by his parents and lawyers,” Okechukwu stated.
Continuing, he said: “The finding that Chief Mokwe and his co-accused were framed up also destroys the foundation upon which the Anambra State Government based and tended to justify its hasty decision to demolish Upper Class Hotel. If the Anambra State Government had followed due process and allowed investigation to confirm or rebut the allegations leveled against Chief Mokwe before demolishing his hotel, the blunder of hasty and embarrassing action by government would have been avoided. Chief Mokwe and his co-accused would also not have been subjected to the undeserved and unjustifiable human rights abuse, public odium and humiliation the government and police subjected them to.”
The torture chamber at Awkuzu SARS
Narrating his ordeal to Crime Alert, Justin Nwankwo, the PhD student/Researcher at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and Manager of Upper Class Hotel until August 1, 2013 when he was arrested alongside Mokwe and some staff stated;
‘I arrived Awkuzu SARS on the 1st day of August, 2013. With a weakened body, I kept my mind at alert refusing to faint or collapse in the van. Yet upon arrival, I could read the bold inscriptions on the wall of that Nazi camp which reads “ Well come to hell fire.” I quickly told myself that we are in for the worst. I have heard the tales of this bay and camp from Aschelon and Zeba. I always thought and believed that it was the land of mongrels and that it was absolutely reserved for them.
“No…I was mistaken! I was marshaled straight by an officer to an open rickety hall, all other victims were separated, each to his or her own fate. Standing by one end was another police officer with two suspects who were chained together and tempo of the interrogation was getting higher. Momentarily forgetting my own ordeal, I kept a gaze on all corners of the hall abandoned with an ominous look of a 2nd world war torture camp.
Ropes were streaming down from ceiling tops, bags of sand were elevated on perimeter wall fence of the hall and all types of rod and metal varying in shape, length and size were starring at you while you hear shouts of people from the back of the hall screaming the name of their late great grandmothers to come and intercede on their behalf.
Buckets of water were on standby in case one faints or opts to die before appending signature to already written statements. I was still taking stock of the entire facility when I was jolted back to reality by the sound of a rapid military rifle…tem tem tem!!!!!. You no wan talk…you wan follow am go, you wan travel!!! were the words resonating from the other end of the hall. I tried looking but slaps from my investigating Police Officer reminded me that I was not in this camp for excursion or tourism. “That guy don travel oooo …so make you tell me the truth otherwise I go travel you “ were the words from the officer.
“Some policemen started by asking me questions ranging from personal to family and academic background. One of them shouted, “.Mr. tell us what happened or I will shoot your two legs. I started my story of what happened but that was not what they wanted to hear. The questions were already made and I must be categorical in my answers.
They asked; ‘Your Director kills people…No Sir! And the torture started properly… Ropes tied on my two hands, two legs, then both leg and hand bent and tied together with a rod passing in between them and then elevated to a perimeter wall. In fact, if you have watched a goat prepared for barbecue, then you are close to the picture. At the turn of each question and non compliance, a bag of sand is added at my back to add extra pain.
“In the midst of the torture, I opted to set forth at dawn…dragging myself to crossover the thresholds of deaths but they were Anthills in the Savannah. The gods were wise. Around 8pm that night, I was unconsciously taken into Cell 5. I came to know the real essence of that cell days later. Cursed with five cells at that Bay…some are better than the others. Cell 5 is the worst because it is tagged. ”Condemned cell”.
“High profile criminals caught with military rifles are kept there awaiting execution and because our case had all the above element, I smelled the cell for 6 hours and was transferred out in the morning of next day while the Director remained there till the 5th of August. From cell 5, I moved to Cell1 and to cell 4 where I rotted away without taking bath or brush, defecting in a nylon polythene and not seeing the light of day except on occasional visit.
“A total black cell filled with the stench of rugged criminals caught with locally made rifles. In my days at Guantanamo bay…I rekindled my pastoral skills and led the two twin cell of 3 &4 in morning, afternoon and night devotions. Sleeping was with one eye open because gunshots fill the air at all times and people are summarily judged through the barrel of a gun.
Answering your name at odd hours is risky and mention of your name reminds of the ambulance job we do each day for fallen comrades. A room of not more than 2 square size packed up by 29 to 31 suspects…heat kills, hunger kills, mental switch on and off kills and police bullets does the rest. Who will be the next to fire? At the camp, talks of going to court is freedom itself and remanding one in prison custody was answering of prayers from God. Every day we waited for our turn…singing to the Almighty songs like . ‘Abraham Blessing are mine!’ ‘ He delivered Paul and Silas,”he stated.